Counterfeiting Shakespeare: Evidence, Authorship, and John Ford's Funerall Elegye

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Vocabulary and diction

Foster's treatment of diction is a major prop in his claim that the Funerall Elegye 'is formed from textual and linguistic fabric indistinguishable from that of canonical Shakespeare' (1996a, p. 1082). The term 'diction' is something of a misnomer, however, since Foster used it to discuss matters of vocabulary, rhetoric, compound words, verbal parallels, and muchelse. In 1989, under this heading 'Diction', Foster put forward several linguistic items which, he claimed, are unusually prominent in both Shakespeare's works and in the Funerall Elegye (pp. 93–105). As two of his keenest critics pointed out, Foster's method essentially consists of identifying some 'rare Shakespeare quirk', recording that he has found no other example of this quirk other than in the Elegye, and proceeding

to the next point. Though he does not openly claim that the presence of any given Shakespeare quirk shows a work to be Shakespeare's, or that its absence shows that a work is not Shakespeare's, he strongly implies that many such quirk tests seem so close to perfect in their immunity to false positives that a work, if it passes enough of them, 'must be Shakespeare'. 1

Notionally, Foster also attempted a negative check in some cases, by referring to a database that he had assembled, consisting of a 'Cross-Sample' of English verse elegies published between 1610 and 1613 (Foster 1989, pp. 80–1, 132–54). This was only a small excerpt from the larger 'Checklist' he had compiled, of 'English Memorial Verse, 1570–1630' (pp. 293–311), and it is highly regrettable that Foster chose such a limited range of verse, presumably for his own convenience in computation. The proper course would have been to take the period 1605–35, say, and analyse all the poetry and drama published in this period. Fifteen years ago that would have been an impossible task, but since 1995 the Chadwyck-Healey databases of English poetry and verse drama have been available (recently fused with other material to form the valuable resource 'Literature Online'). These resources include a fair

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